I always say that (if anyone asks me) the two main pieces of advice I would give to the youth of today (or anybody really).
- Work in a bar or restaurant (it helps build your people skills enormously)
They say travel broadens the mind, and I must say I agree with whoever ‘they’ are. I would even go further and say it also opens the soul, increases creativity and makes you smarter, amongst many other advantages.
I always try to advise people to travel (if I am asked) and am happy to see people I know and love travelling in epic ways.
As I said just the other day, in an e-mail to my niece, that it makes my heart soar to hear of her going on a trip, but it could be anybody. I don’t mean taking a day trip to Calais to stock up on cheap booze, I mean going to places and seeing the real parts of the Country/City, not parts that politicians see that have been cleaned up prior to their arrival.
Travel is about learning new micro skills, putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, learning there there are many ways of achieving the same thing or learning a new way of doing things. It is also about understanding other people and places. It makes you look around you to find solutions for a range of things; Using shampoo to wash clothes, using sign language as well as the few words you may know, learning how to read maps or orient yourself, learning to look out for landmarks, learning to respect traditions, even if they seem weird to you, you simply learn to communicate better generally.
It can also be about reconfirming already solid ideas in your own head. Everywhere people are the same in the same way we are all different too. Generally all parents love their children and want the best for them, all kids go to school, everyone has to work to earn money and get education, we all feel the heat and the cold, we all get ill from time to time, we all lose people we love, we all like to do hobbies, love nature, we love eating nice food, people take holidays, getting new clothes, having access to clean water, the love of your family, we all need and appreciate friends, support, encouragement, to feel heard, be needed, to help and be helped. That is human nature.
I think also that humans are creatures of habit, we all like routine (some of the time, anyway) it helps us feel safe and secure and it allows us some control over our lives. The reason travel is so important (for me anyway), is that it stretches us, it takes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to adapt and use or find skills that are not often used.
We can learn a lot about other people and most importantly, ourselves.
Think about it, imagine you are simply going to another country for work (or for pleasure), there are a myriad of things to do before you leave; You may need a passport or at least valid travel documents, will you be renting a car? do you need an international driving license? Who do I ask? where do I get one? will I have to drive on the other side of the road? will the car be stick shift or automatic?
What about a hotel? what sort of hotel do I want or need? or could I do Airb&b? or Couchsurfing? or do I know someone there who could put me up?
Will I need to local currency or travellers cheques? and how much should I bring, are there ATMs locally?
What do I pack? is it hot? cold? rainy? Do I need a decent outfit for meetings/presentations? am I just walking around ruins and need walking boots? If you are heading for a beach, do you need to take flip-flops? Suntan lotion? mosquito tablets?
You see! all this can go through your head even before you get out the door or even out of bed!
It can seem so daunting, but believe me, it can also be very simple, if you don’t mind making things up as you go, you can often just buy a ticket and go somewhere and sort out the details when you get there. No need to take the kitchen sink with you ‘just in case’.
Then of course there is the journey. What will that be like? will I need different currencies for all the countries I travel through?
(Travelling from Belgium to the UK – as I have done many times over the years – I used to have Belgian Francs anyway, but I would take French Francs so I could have a coffee or snack whilst waiting to board the Ferry (leaving from Calais), and UK pounds for when I got there.
The longest flight I have taken took me to New Zealand (and back), and that was epic. Although larger airports are all very similar in many ways, there are many exciting differences; the people, the food, the souvenirs, the security.
Road trips. For some people, the ultimate way to travel is to do a road trip, in countries like the US I can only guess that the main attraction is the vast incredible scenery everywhere. In europe, you will most likely pass through many different countries, many different types of scenery, different language borders (the motorway signs change language in Belgium depending of you are in a French or Dutch speaking area and of you are heading towards Brussels from Ostende you may see signs for Liege signposted, but as you get closer the name changes to Luik. Confusing if you are not aware of this fact. I used to yearn to do the Route 66 challenge but would be happier driving through the fjords of Norway or Iceland,
On a micro or macro level, I find I see things that others don’t; I will see hawk swirling above a field, I see the lonely Robin redbreast by the side of the road, I see the hidden lane that I make a note of to visit one day if I get the chance.
It is all about being open, being aware, looking for and embracing the differences, learning new words and phrases, trying to understand other peoples motives, traditions and cultural reasons behind them being the way they are.
Learning bits and pieces of languages helps you learn other languages of a similar root. It increases self-awareness, can make you more employable, rounder, productive, so many advantages.
Taking the road well travelled or the unknown path will both lead to growth and better understanding, but you have to be open to it.
I do see and meet people who are on a whirlwind trip around Europe by bus or whatever, and they see a city each day, or a new country everyday. That is not travel, that is window shopping. That is not the truth, that is just skimming the surface.
Get down and dirty, it is the only way.